• 9 Investigates: How video games impact a child's mental health

    By: John Paul

    Updated:

    CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Go anywhere and you'll see people so locked in on their screens that they're barely aware of what's going on around them.

    [ALSO READ: Can gaming become a real addiction?]

    It's happening inside homes too, especially with kids and video games. 

    Adam Brooker said there was a time when he would have rather been sitting in front of a laptop playing games, instead of helping those battling gaming and screen addiction. 

    [SPECIAL SECTION: Mental Health Resources]

    "Realistically, the video games are a drug," Adam Brooker said. "There was a week I just didn't even go to class. I was just playing video games all day. All day. That week is when I realized something is wrong."

    Adam Brooker said he was at his worst when he was a freshman at NC State. He started failing classes. 

    He said he ended up dropping out of school and told his family he needed help.  

    Adam's mom, Melanie, is a nurse. She said she knew something was wrong and she started researching. 

    [CLICK: Screen Strong -- An Initiative of Families Managing Media]

    She said she realized gaming and screen addiction is a very real problem. 

    Last year, the World Health Organization recognized "Gaming Disorder" as a disease."

    >> Channel 9 is committed to breaking down the stigma surrounding mental health and offering real solutions. Join us for a primetime special, "Charlotte's Hidden Crisis," on Wednesday, May 29 at 8 p.m.

    "The way I describe it, it sounds like an epidemic. Yea, I believe it is an epidemic," Melanie Brooker said. "I believe it affects one child in every home in this country."

    One of the first homes to be impacted by a "Gaming Disorder" was Liz Woolley's. 

    [RELATED: World Health Organization declares gaming disorder official condition, publishes diagnosis criteria]

    In 2001, her son Shawn started playing the online game "Everquest." 

    "After three months, he quit his job and he started to play this game morning, noon, and night," Woolley said. "He just became anti-social and depressed. I'm watching him, he was becoming a different person." 

    She said Shawn spiraled out of control after he was kicked out of his apartment. 

    "I went to get him on Thanksgiving and I found him in his apartment," Woolley said. "He had killed himself in front of the computer with the game on it. When I saw that, I said, 'He's sending me a message.' Why else would he kill himself in front of the computer with the game on it." 

    Woolley said the news of her son's death spread around the world and she started to hear from other families battling video game addiction.

    She said that is when she decided to start Online Gamers Anonymous, a group to help players and their families. 

    [CLICK: Online Gamers Anonymous]

    Both Woolley and Adam Brooker said they have the same advice, a test. 

    If your child has a meltdown when you turn off their game or take away their screen, they could be developing a problem and the longer it goes on, the bigger chance of mental health issues. 

    "Depression is just an automatic pretty much. Once you are addicted to games, you lose anything that makes you human," Adam Brooker said. 

    Both families suggest a detox by taking the screens away for a period of time. 

    This worked for Adam Brooker. He said he quit gaming and joined the Army. 

    Woolley said her son never got help. She said she has now dedicated her life to preventing other families from experiencing her pain. 

    "More and more people are realizing that this is turning into a problem because of how society is turning out," Woolley said. "

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